When going through my paper to finish it up, I focused on making sure I used enough different quotes by Hugh Dowding himself about his strategy as well as comments about the battle. One of the sources I went through and added quotes from was an address that Dowding delivered at the RAF Staff College in 1937, three years before the battle. This is an interesting source because Dowding discusses plans for a defensive system in case of an invasion despite the fact that the war had not yet begun, demonstrating how he was able to foresee future issues. In addition to this, what he says he would implement in a defensive strategy is demonstrated in the battle three years later. This includes the idea that conserving planes would be key in a successful defense. He also says that he would look to be more defensive because that would surprise a potential enemy. Finally, he even mentions the possible dangers of terror bombing which does ultimately occur towards the end of the Battle of Britain. I also referred to a dispatch from Dowding from 1941, after the battle. In this dispatch he says that Britain was able to be successful because the RAF refused to “crack” against the Luftwaffe. He also gives a lot of credit to the Royal Observer Corps in this source, saying that they were the sole means of tracking raids once the Luftwaffe crossed the coast. Words from Hugh Dowding himself serve as great primary sources for the paper because they allow me to get an inside look of how he went about forming his defensive strategy.
The next factor of the Dowding System that I looked at was what was known as “Big Wing controversy.” This controversy was at the heart of the tension between Hugh Dowding and some other RAF commanders who did not agree with his methods during the battle. Big Wing strategy was the idea of meeting a large Luftwaffe force with a mass formation of fighter squadrons. John LaSaine describes this controversy in his book, mentioning Trafford Leigh-Mallory, commander of Fighter Group 12, as one of the main proponents of the Big Wing and a rival of Dowding as well as Keith Park. Park was the commander of Fighter Group 11 and an ally of Dowding when it came to his defensive strategy. Park preferred to break up Luftwaffe forces with quick counterattacks and accused Leigh-Mallory of taking too much time to concentrate a large force when trying to employ his Big Wing tactics. Niall Mackay and Christopher Price in their article “Safety in Numbers: Ideas of Concentration in Royal Air Force Fighter Defence from Lanchester to the Battle of Britain” dive into the Big Wing controversy and explain different reasons for why the tactics Dowding preferred were more successful than the Big Wing tactics employed by Leigh-Mallory and includes statistics from the battle demonstrating this.
My next research step was fully about going through John LaSaine’s Air Officer Commanding: Hugh Dowding, Architect of the Battle of Britain. This is a full book that covers how Dowding got to where he was and how he came up with his system for the German invasion. The book give all kinds of incite that is relevant to my paper for obvious reasons. Some of what I focused on was Dowding’s preference to use fighters as opposed to bombers and why this preference existed. The book details his career beginnings and talks about how he rose to the top of the Royal Air Force despite never being heavily involved with bombers which was a major factor of RAF strategy. He had always been a fan of fighters because they are much better suited for quick attacks as well as defense. The book details how Dowding actually had a large role in separating bombers and fighters, previously under a joint command, into Fighter Command and Bomber Command in 1936 while he was a member of the Air Counsel. He of course took over Fighter Command and led this command through the Battle of Britain where his strategy was extremely reliant on the heavy use of fighters.
My next research step examines the work of Barry Posen. Posen’s piece is interesting for my paper because it mentions a few more unique aspects of what was going on that is not mentioned in many of my other sources. For one, he talks about the development of the system but mentions how it affected the economy of Britain. Posen admits that military development was important for Britain during this time of war but goes into how this development damaged the economy of Britain following the war. He also talks about how Hugh Dowding was viewed within the public whereas most sources focus on his relations with his fellow commanders. Posen gives Dowding credit in this respect because the people wanted to be safe within their nation and therefore wanted a strong defensive system. While other Royal Air Force commanders wanted to focus on offensive bombing, the people wanted a strong defense and this is what Dowding gave them, making him a champion of the people, according to Posen. If the battle plan was more focused on offensive bombings, the country would have been more vulnerable to terror bombings that would affect the civilians. Although this did eventually happen, it was not until later in the battle once the Luftwaffe became frustrated that it could not break British forces.
My next research strategy was to look at different secondary sources to get a read on what Hugh Dowding deserves credit for and what is slightly overblown in his contribution to British defense in the Battle of Britain. John Ferris wrote in The Journal of Military History that a lot of what Britain did in the Battle of Britain was already set in place a long time before. Ferris believes that it is a misconception that the air defense system of the RAF came out of nowhere and gives Fighting Area Headquarters (FAHQ) a lot of credit for what they were able to achieve in air defense during the First World War. He states that Britain’s air defense was already the most advanced at that time and simply built off what was already in place. Although he does admit that FAHQ would not have won the Battle of Britain, he says that they did what they had to do in the lead up to what eventually became radar. Another source I discovered is from the journal History in which an entry written by Niall Mackay and Christopher Price argues in favor of Dowding on the Big Wing controversy, which is still hotly debated. This is one of the things that led to Dowding leaving his position after the war, as many RAF advisors believed in the Big Wing strategy of meeting their opponents in large aerial battles whereas Dowding used a more conservative approach that aimed toward a war of attrition. Mackay and Price back my stance on Dowding as a hero who went against what many thought and was still successful in his strategy. They provide evidence as to why Dowding’s approach was more successful, as, not surprisingly, the use of more forces in conflicts led to more losses.
This research update is based upon the search for more primary sources, as they can be harder to find and I need more on Hugh Dowding and his air defense system. One of the sources I have found is from 1983 when Chief of the Air Staff Keith Williamson alongside the man he replaced in this position, Michael Beetham, addressed a council on air defense. Before the following proceedings occurred, which involved questions for Williamson, he gave a speech on the topic and drew from different major chapters of air defense throughout the years. He mentions the Battle of Britain and how important radar was several times, going as far as to say that Britain would not have been victorious without it. In closing, Beetham says that he believes that air defense really came to the forefront with the Battle of Britain which is actually contrary to what one of my secondary sources says so I will have to further look into that. I have this as a primary source because although it is from the 1980s, both men were serving when the Battle of Britain occurred. I also tried to figure out the British National Archives and was able to come across a note from 1941 that summarized Dowding’s own report on the battle. Because it was Dowding’s report I am sure that it is biased but nonetheless it is quite interesting and the note on his report specifically says that his air defense system was the most advanced ever and therefore was the decisive factor in the battle.
This week’s research was focused on building the historiography for class. Because of this, I did not do much with primary sources but instead evaluated my secondary sources. I found some new secondary sources dealing with Hugh Dowding’s defensive strategies that he used against the Luftwaffe’s air invasion but for the purposes of the historiography, I only evaluated what the sources I already had acquired had to say on the Dowding System implemented in the Battle of Britain. Most of my sources do greatly credit Hugh Dowding with victory in the battle. However, I did notice a trend with my sources over time that I will look more closely to as I continue to write the historiography. This trend is that my older sources seem to give Dowding more credit for the victory in the Battle of Britain than the more recently written sources. For instance, Asher Lee wrote on how the Dowding System was crucial in the beginning of modern air defense. However, this source was written in the 1950s and, therefore, the defense that he wrote about was not very modern by today’s standards. Meanwhile, Anthony Cumming wrote a piece in 2007 that does give Dowding some credit but also argues that the radar that was previously credited with the victory was not actually that advanced. I will have to look more closely to this trend before I determine where I stand on this matter. My next research steps will be to complete evaluating my secondary sources for the historiography and then to look for military records that can be used for primary sources in my paper.
Because I have not officially started writing the paper itself, my research plan has been to collect and read through as many sources as possible so that I have enough information to write the paper. This week, my research steps were mostly to search key terms on google scholar, which I never really used until recently and have found it to be very useful. One source that I found that I will certainly be using in my research paper is Dowding of Fighter Command: Victor of the Battle of Britain by historian Vincent Orange. This is a biography on Hugh Dowding, the man behind the air defense system used during the Battle of Britain. This source is clearly very useful because it is a biography on the man who a lot of my research is about and therefore includes a lot of useful background information on Hugh Dowding. More specifically, there are chapters in the book titled “Improving a System” and “Strengthening Fighter Command” that go into specifics about how Dowding led and how his air defense system was improving going into the war. After this in the book there are multiple chapters just on the Battle of Britain itself and what Dowding did during the battle. There is not much to analyze in this source because instead of having biases, the author is basically just stating the facts about Dowding’s life and command. I will surely be using this source in my paper because, as I mentioned, it present much information about Dowding’s system before and during the battle that I am researching in my project.
This week’s research was based on my research question which I narrowed down, with the help of professor Urwin, to focus on the aspect of British air defenses against the Luftwaffe that were orchestrated by Hugh Dowding. These defenses became known as the Dowding system, and included radar and human observers. I focused my research on primary sources, as they are usually harder to come across than secondary sources. Primary sources that I found using the national archives include a couple of letters written by and received by Winston Churchill, who was prime Minister at the time of the battle. These letters give the reader a sense of the nervousness of British leaders during the invasion. You can tell that Churchill was in desperate need of allies, and this will help me as a write my paper because it demonstrates that Britain should not have been able to hold off Germany. I will also use Churchill’s speeches because they demonstrate how he was able to pull the nation together in order to survive the attack by Germany. Other primary sources that are going to be very useful when describing the Dowding system are two separate lectures/speeches from Dowding himself as he describes what his defense methods were. These are clearly useful because they do not require much interpretation but instead describe exactly what I am researching from the man himself who invented the system.
This week’s research has been focused on narrowing down my original research question that was presented in my elevator pitch in class. This was the question of how the British were able to successfully hold off Germany when they invaded in the Battle of Britain from the summer to fall of 1940. I was instructed to “flesh out” this topic so after performing some general searches as well as consulting Professor Urwin, I am leaning toward looking specifically at the air defense system of Hugh Dowding. Hugh Dowding was in command of the Royal Airforce (RAF) during the German air invasion, and his revolutionary methods of air defense played a major role in the battle and, in turn, the survival of Britain in the war. My research has been mostly general searches to get a better understanding of his methods, such as using human air observers and radar. This directly impacts my general topic of the battle itself, and will most likely be my main focus. However, I am still trying to figure out the actual wording of the research question that will be answered in my thesis. The bibliographies included on pages I read through my general web searches will be helpful in my next steps so that I can form my proposal for class on Wednesday.